The Dirty Thirties Essay, Research Paper
Every era is shaped by many diverse events and conditions. The 1930 s were marked by economic crisis and instability. The Great Depression struck the world in 1929, and continued throughout the decade. This caused many to look upon this time as a dark and melancholy period, which was not the case. Although most people focus on the depression, as characterizing the 1930 s, many other factors helped shape that era. During this time in America, there were many momentous events, writers, and innovations that greatly impacted society.
One event which perpetuated the problems of the 1930 s was the Dust Bowl. Beginning in 1931, about fifty million acres of land, mainly in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, experienced a severe drought (Farris 6). This drought and its aftermath ranked among the worst environmental disasters in history. These extreme weather conditions made it even harder for many people to overcome the economic problems already facing that era. The soil in this region had become dry and loose because of the prolonged drought, and by 1933, the high winds began creating huge dust storms. (Bond 226). There have always been dust storms in the Great Plains, but these were far more deadly and devastating than ever seen before. These storms, which ravaged the Plains, caused unbelievable amounts of damage. One of the biggest dust
storms in history occurred in May of 1934, when dust blew for thirty-six hours straight creating a dust cloud covering 1,500 miles (Andryszewski 8). With storms of this nature occurring frequently the land became wrecked and ravaged. The once beautiful farmland of the Great Plains turned dry, desolate, and dead. Not only did the Dust Bowl leave lasting environmental problems, it also caused an economic and social upheaval.
The Dust Bowl of the 1930 s caused many problems for the individuals living in the area, as well as for society as a whole. Southern plains farmers defeated by the dust storms were certain that they would find work in California (Farris 36). There was a mass departure of bankrupt and discouraged farm families of the South migrating to California in order to flee from the dust storms. They abandoned cherished homesteads and livelihoods hoping for a better life when they reached California. Within four years,more than three hundred thousand poor farmers moved to California in search of a new life, but were disappointed when they could not find work (Bond 226). The problems
they faced by not having a job not only hurt them, but it caused society to suffer as well. The economy was damaged even more by having thousands out of work. The Dust Bowl had a lasting effect on society which can be seen in great detail by the many writers and painters who focused on this time period.
One remarkable author known for captivating the 1930 s was John Steinbeck. He was born on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California, and spent much of his childhood time wandering through the woods looking for adventure (Ito 10). It was this sense of discovery and curiosity that helped create the foundation of his novels. His love of the land and keen observation of human nature were also woven into his novels. He published the book The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, which depicted the lives of those during the Dust Bowl. Although the novel is classified as fiction, Steinbeck s account
of the Dust Bowl and it s survivors is remarkably authentic (Farris 28). He was able to capture all the facets of human nature as people struggled with economic hardship of that time. Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for The Grapes of Wrath, which is … considered to be one of the greatest American novels of the twentieth century (The Columbia Encyclopedia). The book helped create a social conscious concerning the rights of poor farmers. Although it had great social influence and was popular with many, the novel did, however, generate a national controversy. Charges of filth were leveled against the novel, which was banned in several regions of the country, including
Buffalo, New York, East Saint Louis, Illinois, and Kern County, California (Ito 52). Many readers were offended by the language used, which was strong for its day. Even with the criticism it faced, The Grapes of Wrath inspired generations of readers as a powerful social commentary and a great classic in American literature. Just as the characters in The Grapes of Wrath were looking for better times, so was the American public during this time.
Americans wanted to enjoy themselves, and many felt that Prohibition restricted their rights. Prohibition was …the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution forbidding the manufacture, sale, import, or export of intoxicating liquors (The Columbia Encyclopedia). Many Americans disagreed strongly with this amendment and felt that it had been forced upon them against their will. This law was more damaging than beneficial to society, and its demise was welcomed with open arms. On December 5, 1933, at 5:32 P.M. EST, the so called noble experiment came to an end when the state of Utah became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment (Bond 319). Prohibition failed for many reasons including political and economic implications.
The final ending of the law had an positive effect on the economy and society as a whole. Above all else, however, the story of the Eighteenth and Twenty-first Amendments can be seen as a triumph for democracy (Lucas 96). American citizens have always demanded freedom from repression and Prohibition is just another example of this. One thing that has always been true is that Americans will not allow unreasonable restrictions on their choices. America was founded on the wanting of new experiences and not being held back, which helps explain the remarkable progress following the hard times of this era.
Americans have always embraced new inventions and technologies as a way of making life better. The debut of television got its start during this so called dark period on May 22, 1930, at Procter s Theater where for the first time an audience saw a closed-circuit TV (Collins 17). The response was overwhelming and started a new age of technological advances. Interest in this new medium continued to grow throughout the decade. The television made its grand opening at the New York World s Fair in 1939, where they had televisions on sale for $200 to $660, depending on the options included(Bond 482). Although the great expense placed owning a television out of the reach of
many Americans, there was still a great desire to own one. Many think this was the start of materialism. On May 17, 1939, the first baseball game to be televised was a victory for Princeton over Columbia (Collins 30). Sports have always been a favorite pastime of Americans so it was fitting that the first major television airings be of games. The television allowed Americans to lift their spirits and learn more about the world around them. New knowledge and technologies continued to make life better.
The invention of nylon greatly impacted many parts of American life. William Hume Carothers was an American organic chemist that patented nylon in February of 1935 (The Columbia Encyclopedia). Nylon created big profits for business due to consumer demand for its reliable use in things such as hosiery and parachutes. It also gave manufacturers a base for developing further goods. Nylon is …characterized by strength, elasticity, resistance to abrasion and chemicals, low moisture absorbency, and capacity to be permanently set by heat (The Columbia Encyclopedia). These strong qualities lead to the development of many other desirable and useful goods which helped the economy continue to grow. People s desire for new and useful items using nylon created a greater consumer demand. Nylon was a very popular product and it is reported
that four million pairs of hosiery were sold in one day, and before the year s end over 60 million pairs were sold (The Columbia Encyclopedia). Nylon became a standard product used in many basic items which continue to influence American life. As Americans gain greater knowledge and expertise, this product continues to be used in new and creative ways, such as in the space program or as medical aids.
The 1930 s had many ups and downs but the American people were resilient and were able to overcome the great problems they faced. The hard times that people had made them ready for good times. A positive attitude and a belief in tomorrow helped create an environment in which new discoveries and technologies could further develop American society. The true American spirit of pursuing creativity and discovery helped bring about the advances that made life easier and more enjoyable. This decade had many unique events that helped set the future course of America s history.